Trip to the hairdresser in Moscow on day 106 of the war 

(Credit: AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

On the 106th day of the war, Nastya, the owner of a Moscow hairdressing salon, complains about the shortage of hair products. Journalist Zaira Abdullaeva, one of her oldest clients, returns for the first time since the offensive began.

“You haven't been here for a long time,” Nastya says to me as I enter the shop. She is about five feet tall but she is the big boss in her hair salon. With her 10 years of experience, she helps the other hairdressers  choose the colour and do the right curl. She keeps an eye on everything and even cuts her own hair. I like Nastya.

Every morning, she gets up at five in the morning. She drives to work from Dolgoprudny, near Moscow, opens the salon at 8:30 a.m. It takes her two hours to get there, a little less to go home.

Once in a past life –  what we call our life until 24 February, 2022 –, when I still had the strength to talk to people who are not close to me, I was horrified by these four hours on the road. She kept repeating that she loves her job.

It's true. For the many years I have been going to Nastya, I have never seen her in a bad mood or angry: she always speaks calmly to her staff, even if they mess up. And she has never tried to foist any unnecessary things on me. “This care product restores the hair after Covid, but if the hair falls in a bulb, then don’t buy it – you should go to the doctor,”  she says.

Nastya knows everything about hair. She knows all about new products on the market. She says: “I don't recommend this dye. They've changed the formula or something, but my scalp is itchy!” She also honestly warns you that this product is for blondes, and that it makes no sense for brunettes.

We started out with polite phrases about the weather, and five years later I know parts of Nastya's life. Late at night she returns to Dolgoprudny, to her husband and son, a preschooler.

She is a late daughter, and her father and mother stayed in her native town.  Nastya really wants to be close with them. “I call them every night, I miss them!”, she says. But there is no way to earn money for the dacha (a country house in Russia) yet, and they have lived in their house all their lives: they do not agree to a concrete block, even if next door to their daughter.

I know that Nastya's apartment in Dolgoprudny is mortgaged, but the Honda was finally bought out. I know that her son likes to draw and even goes to some courses, that her husband is a fisherman, and that she dyes her hair brown since she was 13 years old, because she doesn't like their colour – too “mousey”. And I also know some nice things about her, and so when she says to me, “you haven't been to our place in a while”, I really hope she doesn't ask “has something happened?”

For the past 100 days since 24 February, I, like everyone else, have seen and heard different things.  There are those who ask: “where have you been all these eight years while the Ukrainians were bombing Mariupol?” Those who repeat what  is on television, and those who think that “not everything is so clear”.

There are also those who have learned the bad word “denazification” and finally those who say that  nothing happened – these are the worst. The ones who use the eight years of bombing excuse are nowhere near. And I learned not to respond, not to discuss “bad NATO” with my dad, not to call my friend who sees “nothing wrong” in two letters of the Latin alphabet – Z and V, which now symbolise “special operation” in Ukraine. After all, it's daddy, and my Marinka is good, just naive and always has been.

I can “be zen” when strangers or slightly familiar people try to talk to me about scary Ukrainian nationalists and how Ukraine is bombing itself. But I don't want Nastya to be among those people.

Nastya is a good person. She works long and hard. She constantly participates in some profile contests, reads about what's new in her professional field, subscribes to endless hairdressing subpages, and in the evening she returns to Dolgoprudny to feed her husband, read a story to her kid before bedtime, chat with friends on WhatsApp, and call her mom and dad. Nastya does not watch Russian TV shows, she has no time and no interest. TV is just for background, but of course she knows that our country is at war with the neighbouring one. That is, it is conducting a special operation there.

Fortunately, Nastya doesn’t say those words, but it is not necessary: the manufacturer of S, the brand she used to recommend to me, “left the market. You understand why, probably we will have only Korean cosmetics. They are probably good. Well, what to do? Sanctions, sanctions…”

“They will end, won't they? I really want it to be over,” says Nastya, cutting off a strand of hair by an invisible millimetre. “I want it to be over, at least by September? Do you think it will be over?”

It's small-talk, I tell myself. It's just being polite. You don't have to answer, and she probably doesn't expect an answer. Don't say anything. Smile. Don't say anything. Or say, “I wish,” “I hope,” “who knows?”

But I like Nastya. And I ask in response:“how is it supposed to end?”

Somewhere deep down inside even I know the answer, because I have lived here all my life and this is not my first war – I have had another one that was closer, heavier, under my skin. I was born in Grozny, Chechnya. I have not been to my hometown since December 1994, when a war broke out, one which the authorities bashfully called “the counter-terrorist operation”.

I know that nothing will be the same as before, I know that this wound will last a hundred years at least, I know that it will be worse – not because only Korean cosmetics and holidays in Turkish Antalya cost as much as in Dubai, but truly worse.

But I wait for Nastya's answer. Nastya stops cutting my hair and we both stare in silence in the mirror for almost half a minute.

“I don't know,” Nastya says firmly. “I don't know. I just want it to be like it was before.”